The issues of maternal and infant mortality in communities of color, particularly in the Black community, are often ignored. It is no secret that Black mothers face a host of challenges to accessing quality maternal healthcare, regardless of socioeconomic standing and education level. With high profile cases like Serena Williams and Kira Dixon-Johnson (Judge Glenda Hatchett’s daughter-in-law), it has been repeatedly proven that this is linked to implicit bias, is a systemic problem and leads to Black maternal mortality rates being more than triple that of their white counterparts and considerably more than that of other races as well.
Though just as devastating to Black and Brown communities, there is rarely mention of how initiation into and sustained breastfeeding or a lack thereof impacts upon Black infant health and mortality rates or that of Black mothers. However, studies have shown that Black women are the least likely among women of all races to breastfeed on a whole and in the event that they do, it is rarely exclusive for the timeframe that they engage in the practice. As a result, Black babies are three times more likely to die than their counterparts of other races. Overall, they are more susceptible to sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), a host of life-threatening and sometimes lifelong medical conditions, including: asthma, respiratory infections, impaired vision, eczema, gastrointestinal infections, constipation, urinary tract infections, et al.
Similarly, Black mothers who do not engage in breastfeeding are more likely to suffer from breast, endometrial and ovarian cancer; postpartum depression; diabetes; morbid obesity as a result of pregnancy/inability to lose pregnancy-related weight and other troubling medical health issues.
Enter Krystal Duhaney, CEO and founder of Milky Mama, who just recently claimed the top prize of $25,000 at the New Voices + Target Accelerators $100,000 Virtual Pitch Competition on September 25th. Milky Mama provides a wrap-around experience that improves the health and wellness of both mothers and infants, including online breastfeeding courses, a support group of over 25,000 mothers, virtual lactation consultations, weekly sessions with lactation consultants, and effective lactation supplements.
“Milky Mama…is going to have the greatest impact because this company and its founder, Krystal Duhaney, live their purpose. [Their purpose is] bringing awareness to the higher incidents of Black maternal deaths and infant mortality through their lactation supplement products and breastfeeding services…[and] what they are building is intentional about solving problems in the Black community.” said Richelieu Dennis, Chair of New Voices.
As a new mom who was having trouble with milk production and getting her baby to latch properly, Duhaney searched for guidance and support, seeking advice from her physician, son’s pediatrician, and other women about how to embrace breastfeeding. Duhaney struggled and found ways to cope throughout her breastfeeding journey with her son from 2012 to 2014. When she found herself battling the same issues after the birth of her daughter in 2015, she started researching foods that could support her on this journey.
Building a Purpose-Driven Business
As an avid baker, Duhaney developed recipes for baked goods and drinks that bolstered her milk supply. She quickly realized with the creation of her Emergency Brownie, that she could be a resource and community-builder for other breastfeeding moms, especially those who look like her. She started posting about her products, creating an environment for breastfeeding moms to feel supported and Milky Mama was born in September 2015.
Just five short years, six employees and several products later, Duhaney has built a community that reaches over 500,000 “Milky Mamas” worldwide. Being a nurse, she felt it was important for her and her staff to become breastfeeding experts. As such, in 2018, Duhaney became an internationally certified lactation consultant and provided the opportunity for her entire team—of mostly bakers at the time—to become lactation consultants and doulas.
“It was really important to me that everyone on my team was knowledgeable and passionate about breastfeeding. Everyone on my team is a mother and a woman of color […]. It’s important that we have a network of support that knows what they’re talking about. I wanted to see them grow and support their wishes and their needs for their own personal development,” Duhaney shared.
Duhaney was spurred on by a desire to set a generational precedent in her own family, give her babies the best possible start and challenge the narratives around Black women and breastfeeding. She was determined that she and her babies were not going to fall victim to the potential fall-out associated with not breastfeeding. So, against her doctors’ counsel to just feed her baby formula, she pressed on and created a solution to the barriers of breastfeeding she faced and that solution was Milky Mama.
Purpose Filled and Pitch Ready
At the September 25th New Voices Foundation + Target Accelerators Pitch Competition, Duhaney shed light on her business and by extension, the breastfeeding-related issues plaguing many Black and Brown women. Performing a near-perfect pitch, wowing the judges with her breastfeeding and lactation expertise and a clear vision for Milky Mama LLC, Duhaney laid claim to the top prize of $25,000. In addition to the funding, Duhany will receive business coaching to help her further grow and scale her businesses from New Voices Foundation, which empowers women of color entrepreneurs to achieve business success through leadership and skills development, access to capital and networking opportunities, as well as other innovative leadership initiatives—at no cost to the entrepreneurs.
“For so long, I would post on Facebook and I wouldn’t show my face because I was afraid that if they knew I was Black, I wouldn’t get sales,” Duhaney recounted. Now, bravely standing in the truth of who she is and the good work of her business, Duhaney goes live on Facebook every week for Milky Mama Q & A Mondays.
During the pitch competition, Duhaney was able to quickly enroll the judging panel as advocates of her brand. The three judges were Robbie Robinson, CEO and founder of Pendulum Holdings, LLC; Melanie Gatewood, Director of Enterprise Segmentation and Multicultural Merchandise at Target; and Ensa Huger, Partner and Founder of SEED.
Her pitch seemingly struck a personal chord with Gatewood, who shared, ““Milky Mama was one of the ones to think about the health disparities that Black women face day in and day out, especially knowing that many of the healthcare innovations that we see today were built on the bodies of slaves. Knowing that there are Black women in the industry working to provide solutions that aren’t just for Black women, but that can truly help us [Black women]…I love that!”
Robinson found that Duhaney’s pitch registered on a strategic business level as well and shared, “Milky Mama was by far a stand out…what she said was really powerful; she said ‘the information and the content is where you start and then you provide people with the product based on them buying into the information’…really, really smart and tactical. That’s how businesses like that are supposed to get built. By far, my favorite.’
Using the funds and coaching that she will receive, Duhaney is excited to continue the tradition of educating Black and Brown women around lactation through the Milky Mama Scholarship Fund. The fund was created to increase diversity and representation in the lactation field by increasing the number of Black internationally board certified lactation consultants. Just as she nurtures a growing community of lactation consultants and breastfeeding advocates, Duhaney looks forward to being nurtured by New Voices Foundation via its PACE (Purpose. Access. Capital. Expertise.) model and diverse programming—which, in addition to pitch competitions, includes entrepreneurial summits, accelerators, coaching, master classes, and more.
“[…] That’s probably the most exciting part, the coaching. I feel like we’ve built a good brand, but there’s always someone who can teach you something and always someone who can help you get to that next level. That’s what I’m looking for and what I’m so excited about,” she mused.